Baptists should be in dialogue with Christians in other denominations — and also people of other faiths — because no single religious tradition can claim a monopoly on knowing God, a transgender Baptist minister said at an April 27 gathering called “Why Baptist?” at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C.
Allyson Robinson, believed to be the first openly transgender Baptist minister, was one of seven speakers assigned to speak on articles of the Alliance of Baptists Covenant. Authored three decades ago, the Covenant attempted to articulate “a clear voice” on Baptist principles during a fundamentalist takeover of America’s second-largest faith group behind Roman Catholics in the 1980s.
The one-day event preceded the Alliance of Baptists 30th anniversary annual gathering, scheduled April 28-30 at Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church.
“Many of us are used to saying what kind of Baptists we are not,” Alliance communications specialist Leah Grundset Davis said in opening remarks. “I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of doing that. I’m thrilled that we are here to proclaim the kind of Baptist that we are; that deep connection that we have to Baptist principles and people who came before us.”
Robinson said if she could change anything today about the third covenant statement — which affirms “the larger body of Jesus Christ, expressed in various Christian traditions” and “cooperation with believers everywhere in giving full expression to the Gospel” — it would be broadening the tent “to people of good will everywhere, regardless of the faith tradition that they follow and if they follow no faith tradition at all.”
“Absolutely, unequivocally, I believe that they possess some piece of revelation that we lack,” she said. “As for what that piece is, I can’t tell you, because I’m not one of them. If we are serious about wanting to know that, we have to ask.”
Robinson said when she and other LGBT advocates showed up at the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s inaugural national conference in 2014 focusing on “The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage,” they were invited to a private meeting for dialogue with conference leaders. The meeting was supposed to be an hour, but it lasted closer to three.
“I don’t know that any of us walked away from that meeting having our fundamental beliefs about the topic at hand changed,” she said. “I walked away from it recognizing that people I had been demonizing on places like Twitter and once in a while from the pulpit were actually human beings, who had actual families and who had real feelings and were deeply committed to following God in the world in the way that seemed best to them.”
“That doesn’t dull my call to those people for justice at all, but what it does is it gives me an actual phone number to call when I want to talk to somebody about that,” she said. “In other words, I don’t have to sit in front of people like you and call them to justice. I can call them on the phone. That feels like a step forward to me.”
Robinson called it an “interesting intellectual exercise” to talk to about a dozen men “who had invested a great deal of time in disproving my existence,” but what will stick with her is a short conversation she had with one of them afterward while waiting for an elevator.
The man — “somebody whose name you’d recognize, probably most of you, if you follow the issues” — asked her about her middle name, “Dylan.” She told him she chose it because she is a big fan of musician Bob Dylan.
“No way, really?” he replied. “So am I.”
They talked about concerts, favorite songs, bootlegs and “all that stuff that Dylan fans do together,” she said, before heading separate ways. She recalled his parting words: “I don’t know how to say this in a way that’s not creepy, and that’s not what I mean, but what I want to tell you is I think you are a really beautiful woman.”
While that person “was back on the radio two weeks later talking about people like me in some very different ways,” she said, “I choose to believe that was a real moment.”
“I think that’s going to make the highlight reel when this whole thing is over, when we’re all looking back on what God did in this world,” Robinson said. “And I’m really thankful to have been a part of it.”
Davis said the idea for “Why Baptist?” originated with Jeff Hood, an author and activist who spoke on the first article on “the freedom of the individual, led by God’s Spirit within the family of faith, to read and interpret the Scriptures, relying on the historical understanding by the church and on the best methods of modern biblical study.”
“In my opinion Baptists didn’t start a couple of hundred years ago,” Hood said. “I believe that Baptists have always been present and were part of the conversation.”
“I believe that Adam and Eve were Baptists,” Hood said. “Baptists will always be a part of the conversation. These principles are not going to end when we stop using the word Baptist. These principles are timeless.”
“It is timeless for people to believe in democracy, for people to believe the individual is important, that an individual can make decisions on their own and should live in a free society,” he said. “I think that that is a timeless principle, and I think we have always led the way. As long as those principles exist, then Baptists will exist.”
Kyndra Frazier, associate pastor of pastoral care and counseling at First Corinthian Baptist Church in New York City, said as a self-described “black lesbian Christian pluralist,” she reads Covenant affirmation No. 2 — “the freedom of the local church under the authority of Jesus Christ to shape its own life and mission, call its own leadership, and ordain whom it perceives as gifted for ministry, male or female” — from a different social perspective than the disenfranchised Southern Baptists who drafted the statement in 1987.
“When I think of freedom, I have to admit the Four Fragile Freedoms are not the first that come to mind,” she said.
Frazier also observed that much has changed since the Covenant authors affirmed the local church’s right to ordain persons either male or female.
“I believe that 30 years ago it was clear that there were two genders,” she said. “Now not so much.”
“I read now it is reported here are 60-plus genders in the U.S.,” Frazier said. “I think we need to parse that out in conversation about that part of the Covenant.”
The remaining Covenant principles are:
4) The servant role of leadership within the church, following the model of our Servant Lord, and to full partnership of all of God’s people in mission and ministry;
5) Theological education in congregations, colleges, and seminaries characterized by reverence for biblical authority and respect for open inquiry and responsible scholarship;
6) The proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the calling of God to all peoples to repentance and faith, reconciliation and hope, social and economic justice;
7) The principle of a free church in a free state and the opposition to any effort either by church or state to use the other for its own purposes.